CINCINNATI -- As the calendar turned to September, speculation started about Gerrit Cole's possible postseason role with the Pirates -- if any. The possibilities of being sent to the bullpen or left off the roster altogether both seemed more likely than the rookie staying in the rotation.
But Cole, who was 6-7 with an ERA of 3.60 through August, tore up options Nos. 1-2 with a 4-0, 1.69 September. Furthermore, after having pitched to contact (61 strikeouts in 75 innings), he has turned on the firepower in September (39 whiffs in 32 innings).
A conscious campaign to pitch himself into that postseason rotation?
"As games became more important, subconsciously your focus heightens. It's just the way it happened, what the atmosphere created," said Cole, pointing out that he'd been told "pretty early that they'd like me to start in the postseason. Before, I'd been told that if I didn't start, it would be only an innings thing.
"I wouldn't have minded if I went to the bullpen ... I still won't mind if I go now. I just want to help out wherever I'm best suited. At this point, it's not about numbers of accomplishments; it's about trying to get as deep [into the postseason] as you can."
That first postseason step could be up to Cole. He will start Sunday's regular-season finale if that game still has to determine home field for Tuesday's Wild Card Game with the Reds. If not, he becomes a fall-back option to pitch in that playoff game, according to manager Clint Hurdle.
Looking ahead to Sunday's potentially pivotal start, Cole said, "That would be fun. It could be cool. It would be especially exciting to get the ball that day."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.